As another year turns, we're reminded that the more things change, the more they stay the same. As our popular culture pushes ever further into anything goes, we're reminded that anything-goes has certainly gone before.
Pick up St. Augustine's "Confessions," and find him traveling to Carthage in the year 371, where "I found myself in a hissing cauldron of lust." Looking back, he regretted how in his desperate search for love, "I muddied the stream of friendship with the filth of lewdness and clouded its clear waters with Hell's black river of lust."
This was not the way Augustine saw it in the dissolute days before he found God, and it is certainly not the way our entertainment elite sees love and sex today. But it's interesting how at that time, Augustine found his sorrows drowned at the theater, "because the plays reflected my unhappy plight and were tinder to my fire." He was amazed how no one actually wanted to experience sadness and tragedy firsthand, but many were thrilled to watch it faked before them. They wanted the vicarious experience of risky emotional highs and tragic emotional lows without the actual, nonfictional pain. Curiosity could drag them anywhere, to spy on the ribald and disastrous ways "the other half lived."
That urge still has echoes today. Led by the usual hallowed envelope-pushers of pay cable, Hollywood has marched ever more passionately in this decade into chronicling and celebrating a cavalcade of alternative lifestyles. The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation coos over how on this season, Showtime's lesbian drama, "The L Word," will have a full-time "trans-gendered" character. HBO's Wild West drama "Deadwood," previously well-known for its "lyrical" flood of profanities, will feature a new "gay and eccentric theater owner" character in the new year.
But HBO is really trampling new weeds by ushering in a new hot alternative lifestyle this spring -- polygamy. Newsweek is already raving in their "Who's Next" year-end issue about "Big Love," starring Bill Paxton as a man with three wives in three adjoining houses with seven kids between them.
Reporter Marc Peyser explained: "The Henricksons are devoutly religious and wholesome (they are not Mormons but an unspecified offshoot). Most of the action focuses on how Bill, who owns home-improvement stores in Utah, handles the mundane aspects of his overpopulated life." The vicarious appeal is watching this man trying to juggle his work life with keeping three "very desperate" housewives satisfied. "It's everything that every family faces, just times three," claimed co-creator Mark Olsen. "The yuck factor disappears, and you just see human faces. We found it to be a mother lode." Newsweek oozed: "On top of that, it's taboo." For how long?
The secular sexual gospel in this series is quite obvious. Even "non-traditional" families of all kinds of exotic stripes can still qualify as down to earth, even "devoutly religious and wholesome." One of the show's creators, playwright Will Scheffer, is especially fond of envelope-pushing. One of his plays featured a bit "delivered by [cannibal/murderer] Jeffrey Dahmer and takes place in Dahmer's kitchen in Heaven, in which he gives lessons on cooking and other topics."
Hollywood's power to affect the popular culture is awesome, and its dedication to tearing down traditions is frightening. We've seen it repeated time and again. Once upon a time, society saw pre-marital sex as wrong; after years of "Friends"-style programming, today it is commonplace to see unmarried couples living together. It wasn't long ago that American society saw the homosexual lifestyle as immoral -- yes, a sin. Today, after years of Hollywood agitation, promoting gay characters and gay lifestyles, it is to be accepted, and anything short of that is intolerance. It seems like just yesterday that a teacher having sex with his/her underaged student was considered rape. No, there's another word for this: pedophilia. Today? Having been sensitized with enough "Dawson's Creek" episodes, we yawn when we hear about it on the news.
It is a thirst to shock that cannot be quenched. It's an addiction. This element in Hollywood lives to destroy, and must continue destroying to stay alive, so the anti-Western cultural rampage continues. What's next? Nonfictional "group marriage TV" will arrive on the Bravo channel in the spring, with a documentary called "Three of Hearts: A Postmodern Family," featuring a New York triple with two gay men, a woman and two children.
Now, reading that last sentence -- what was your reaction? Perhaps a bit surprised, maybe somewhat disgusted. But you weren't shocked, were you?
I rest my case.